Every so often, Mahsa takes a step into the world of people who inspire her and the designs Mahsa creates. Community and connection are increasingly important in our fast-paced and digitally distanced world, and every extra layer of insight enriches our experience of our muses’ creativity.

Our Mahsa Muse interviews allow Mahsa to learn what makes her muses tick, and to delve into the places, people and experiences that inspire their creative visions. It is always an honour to sit with these muses and dress them, and we appreciate their time.

This month, Mahsa visits the home of multi-award-winning architect and quiet creative force Nicola Herbst.

O'Keeffe Dress in Jungle
Long Preacher Top in Cacao

Mahsa Willis: What inspires you?

Nicola Herbst: Both cities and nature. Cities for the mess of it, the bubbling layers of unstructured creativity, intrigue and new expressions and nature for the sheer harmonious perfection of it.

MW: And what brings you joy?

NH: Nature - diving into the sea, walking in the bush and the mountains. By extension, I love animals, so — being with my cat, watching birds bathing in our footbath, watching gannets glide. And having a close connection with someone special, both fleeting and long-lasting.

My Gentleman Shirt in Sky Blue
O'Keeffe Dress in Jungles

MW: You’re a traveller — what are your favourite places to visit?

NH: Islands and cities. I love untethering from the mainland, be it from the North Island or the Greek mainland. Islands are a bit cheeky and encourage dropping the masks so many wear. Cities – the modern and vertical and the older cities embedded with history like Paris. And big city galleries, like Palais de Tokyo, SANNA on the Bowery, or both the Venice Biennales.

MW: As an architect, can you tell us about some of your favourite buildings that you’ve visited?

NH: Too many to mention – at the forefront though, is Le Corbusier – Ronchamp and Villa Savoye, Carla Scarpa’s Ponte Vecchio, Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre, and the Pantheon. I also love the spaces between buildings – the Louvre courtyard, duomo piazzas throughout Italy and the Babylonstoren gardens in Franschoek, Republic of South Africa.

O'Keeffe Dress in Jungle
Drawing by Nicola Herbst

MW: How would you describe your clothing style and your philosophy around dressing?

NH: I love beautiful fabrics, strong silhouettes, well-crafted structured pieces but ultimately it’s about what suits my figure; using clothes to give a balanced, well-proportioned silhouette. I’m not interested in a la mode unless it suits my shape. I’m practising reduction, a hint of whimsy, and balancing opposites — rough linen alongside PVC, voile alongside stiff satin, a billowy top with tight trousers — and playing with styles – shoulder pads with wide cuff bracelets, fun with colour (particularly in summer), grooving to bold ‘60s geometric patterns, and using heels for drama and elegance.

MW: Do you see any connection between fashion and architecture?

NH: Yes… the best of both will display a clarity of idea, an honesty of material, intelligence in the construction or making. Both weave together the poetic and practical and both have the ability to give great pleasure to user and the viewer.

Bow Blouse in Cacao
O'Keeffe Dress in Jungle

MW: Are you reading or listening to any inspiring podcasts or audiobooks?

NH: I read fiction for stimulation and escapism. My favourite of the last few years is H for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald — an incredible, unusual fresh work about grief using the training of a hawk as a salve. I’ve just finished The Trees, by Percival Everett, which uses a clever, bizarrely humorous construct to expose the historical racial killings in the USA. My husband Lance feeds me podcasts, though my brain seems better at absorbing though my eyes than my ears. But I’m trying to tap into all the knowledge out there. Kim Hill’s Saturday interviews are a staple.

MW: What do you do to make yourself feel good, to get yourself out of a funk? 

NH: Depending on the time of day, outdoor exercise or settle in to watch a great movie paired with a glass of wine.

Listen to Nicola’s playlist

To see more of Nicola’s work, 
visit https://herbstarchitects.co.nz 

Apela Bell


My Gentleman Shirt in Cacao